For Elite Fliers, Cathay Pacific’s ‘The Pier’ First Is Still An Absolute Weapon Of A Lounge
— Updated on 19 July 2024

For Elite Fliers, Cathay Pacific’s ‘The Pier’ First Is Still An Absolute Weapon Of A Lounge

— Updated on 19 July 2024
Randy Lai
WORDS BY
Randy Lai

Following a three-year shuttering amid the anxiety of the pandemic, Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific reopened the doors to its popular first class lounge at ‘The Pier’ late in 2023.

Nearly a year after resuming normal operations, Team BH thought it high time to put The Pier, First through its paces and determine whether Cathay Pacific’s flagship ground product has been able to conjure up the magic associated with its pre-pandemic reputation — AKA the best airport lounge in Asia.

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Naturally, every country will have a best-in-class contender — whether it’s JAL’s sushi-counter-toting option at Narita or the curvaceous Qantas First Sydney space — but few have been as regionally lauded as The Pier, First. We chalk that up to this Hong Kong lounge’s inimitable blend of service, privacy, culinary programming, and award-winning interior design.

Most of the warm-up pangs reported back when Cathay reopened The Pier, First last July appear to have been addressed; and while our recent visit wasn’t without its (admittedly first world) quibbles, it’s a relief to know this lounge is as good as the pre-departure game gets — anywhere in Asia.

Read on for our full Cathay Pacific The Pier, First review.

The Pier, First (Cathay Pacific)

Exceptional

96/100

SCORE

PROS

  • Elegantly appointed spaces
  • Mixology at ‘The Bar’
  • Partnered F&B menus
  • Discrete and intuitive service

CONS

  • Pared-back spa menu
  • Occasionally tricky location

Lounge Review: The Pier, First (Cathay Pacific)

Cathay Pacific the pier first

To start, a biggie: Does The Pier still live up to its pre-pandemic reputation as the world’s best airport lounge?

That’s a big call. As far as South East Asia goes – absolutely.

It’s a phenomenon we’ve often observed about the world’s legendary hotels (here in the +852, the Upper House comes to mind), but at The Pier’s first class facilities, all aspects of your visit tend to mesh together seamlessly — in service of whatever your pre-departure priorities are.

There’s no novel highlight or singular gimmicky ‘thing’: just a combination of hard and soft product that’s incredibly well-sorted.

That could mean a selection of cocktails and neat pours which are among the nicest we’ve tasted at any international airport; the space and solitude necessary for some much-needed R&R; or dining experiences that convey Cathay Pacific’s considered ‘East meets West’ approach to hospitality.

If we’ve only got an hour to kill, are we posting up here or at The Wing, First?

Cathay Pacific the Pier first
The Pier, First’s unmistakable (and inviting) long bar. Topped in jade onyx, few places at HKIA offer a more pleasurable setting to sip on Negronis prior to your flight. (Image Credit: Randy Lai)

If you were to survey the entire BH editorial team, I’d put money on at least three quarters opting to while away their pre-departure hours at The Pier. Beyond the obvious USPs (e.g. multiple bar counters, and an entire section dedicated to wellness treatments) there’s an atmosphere at this first class lounge that, put simply, is hard to beat.

Unlike The Wing, the layout here follows British designer Ilse Crawford’s soothing, distinctly residential blueprint. No matter what part of the lounge you’re in, guests never feel the surrounding terminal encroaching upon their peace and quiet.

In a real luxury-hotelier-style flex, even the air here is rarefied: scented with a bespoke bouquet of wood, white florals, and fresh green tea — designed by Melbourne-based Air Aroma.

Like its business class sibling located next door, The Pier’s first class digs provides direct views onto the Terminal 1 jetway at HKIA. (Image Credit: Randy Lai)

Still, there are two very good reasons for Cathay VIPs to visit the first class segment of The Wing. Namely:

  • A self-service Champagne bar — looking out onto HKIA’s South Departures hall — stocked with a range of vintage and non-vintage varietal wines;
  • 12 massive shower suites, including five of The Wing’s signature cabanas. For all intents and purposes private spa retreats, each of the latter is equipped with a daybed, discrete working areas, rain shower, and large soaking tub.

On the food & beverage front, what are you ordering?

Cathay Pacific The Pier first
Pictured: Strong Anglo-Chinese influences abound in The Dining Room, which offers a seasonal à la carte menu — usually including a range of recipes created in collaboration with iconic local dining partners.

Just briefly, a bit of background: last November, Cathay made the welcome choice to reassume full control over “passenger facing” activities at its first and business class lounges in Hong Kong.

In 2018, the airline had previously delegated customer-facing duties to Sodexo: and while the latter operator (behind P2P situations like Plaza Premium) is still on cleaning and some catering duties, its cookie-cutter influence has been largely excised from The Wing, First’s food & beverage programme.

In previous years, Cathay’s first-class lounges were all catered by HSH (operators of the world-renowned Peninsula hotel brand), and while The Pier, First’s current dining offering doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights, what is on offer easily ranks among the top 10th percentile of airport lounges.

Handily, the floorplan itself is anchored around The Pier’s two signature dining destinations, with the left-facing Bar located closest to the entrance and the handsome Dining Room farthest on the right.

The latter dedicated dining space (which favours à la carte service over a buffet-style spread) offers meals throughout the day: ranging from Chinese and European breakfast sets, to an entire dinner menu developed in partnership with the eateries of Rosewood Hong Kong.

Two of our personal highlights included a chilled appetiser of abalone and tofu, masterminded by the Michelin-starred team at The Legacy House; and a ‘Chrysanthemum Cocktail’ lifted straight from the DarkSide signature cocktail menu — a tea-infused riff on clarified milk punch, which was as delicious here as it was in the hotel bar.

Of course, for long-time Cathay stans, the airline’s signature array of ”all-day” favourites may be ordered at leisure: including crystal shrimp dumplings, xiaolongbao, cheeseburgers, and what is surely HKIA’s most photographed bowl of wonton noodles.

RELATED: Rosewood Hong Kong Review — Bigger, Badder, And Bougier On The Kowloon Waterfront

No matter whether it’s before or after your meal, a visit to The Pier’s signature bar is absolutely mandatory. With its distinctive horseshoe shape and soothing jade-green countertop, it’s easily one of the best places to post up with your novel/tablet/newspaper in hand before boarding — especially if you’re partial to a well-made cocktail.

Currently, there is one wine & spirits menu shared between all of the lounge’s spaces; and while the roster certainly isn’t as pulse-quickening as what you’ll be poured aboard Cathay first class services after takeoff, it’s easy to drink very well, starting with the selection below:

  • Drappier Rosé Premier Cru Champagne 2015
  • Domaine Trouillet Pouilly-Fuissé Burgundy 2018
  • Camus ‘Borderies’ XO Cognac

A dozen or so classic cocktails are listed, but even if you’re the custom-ordering sort, the lounge’s bartenders are impressively accommodating. (Case in point: after one or two substitutions, yours truly was able to order a Manhattan — technically off-menu.)

And what if we wanted a pre-flight soak? Any spa treatments available?

Cathay Pacific The Pier first
Pictured: One of the dozen-plus shower suites at The Pier, First. Inside, there’s a rainforest-style wet area (which outputs good water pressure), oversized vanity, and toiletries courtesy of Bamford London.

In addition to 14 extremely roomy shower suites (all clad in Ilse Crawford’s soothing mix of stone and polished metal finishes), guests are able to indulge in an array of facilities well-suited to both rest and rejuvenation.

For fliers who are on a gruelling multi-leg itinerary, the area broadly encompassing The Pier’s spa and showering facilities (“The Retreat”) is also home to eight day suites: miniature indoor cabanas equipped with everything needed to store carry-on luggage and charge personal electronics — whilst you get some shuteye.

To maximise enjoyment, Cathay personnel generally allocate these on a ‘first come, first served’ basis; and guests will be gently alerted once their power nap crosses the 90-minute mark.

For something a touch more hands-on (literally), The Retreat provides an array of spa-style treatments designed to target the parts of your person which suffer unduly during long hours of commercial flight. Each is capped at 15 minutes, and bookable via counter service.

The eye revitaliser and neck & shoulder massage are fairly self-explanatory; with these rounded out by a foot reflexology treatment that is intended to boost circulation. Veteran first class flyers might recall a time when The Retreat offered a full-bore foot soak, but since The Pier’s reopening in 2023, this has been substituted with the aforementioned foot massage. (Again: more of a trivial observation than genuine grievance.)

Understandably, demand for the various wellness treatments tends to increase throughout the day; and it’s not uncommon for a spate of last-minute bookings to occur before closing time (i.e. 11 PM).

If you’re flying red eye — a common occurrence for direct services between Hong Kong and Australia — our suggested playbook would be to a prioritise a shower and treatment upon arrival; while using the inevitable delay to enjoy The Dining Room.

How about a quick tour of the various spaces that make up The Pier, First?

Sure. Cathay’s leading first class lounge gives guests a mix of communal and individually delineated spaces to play in. Broadly, they break down as follows:

  • Reception & main lounge: Distinguished by the iconic Cathay Pacific brush-wing logo, these are the areas closest to The Wing, First entrance. They offer a convenient snapshot of the lounge’s trademark style: which makes use of a number of recurring interior design elements including walnut timber, green onyx, and warm ambient lighting.
  • The Bar: Includes The Wing’s signature horseshoe-shaped counter and the surrounding lounge area. Our preferred location for relaxing while enjoying a stiff beverage.
  • Long Corridor: The stretch of hallway, decorated with custom artwork and a series of double-sided couches, that runs between the Bar and Dining Room.
  • The Retreat: Located off of the Long Corridor, this wellness-focused area encloses the lounge’s showers, massage zone, and array of eight Day Suites.
  • The Dining Room: The lounge’s signature restaurant experience, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with an all-day à la carte menu.
  • The Pantry: A small alcove immediately to the right of the lounge’s entrance, where guests are able to access coffee, cold beverages, and an array of hot & cold snacks.
  • The Bureau: A series of six traditional desk set-ups, augmented with printing and privacy. Located off of the long corridor, halfway between the Bar and Dining Room.

HKIA is massive though! Is the location convenient?

Okay, so, this is one detail worth paying attention to. The Pier, First lounge is located at the far western end of HKIA: at Gate 63, Terminal 1 to be exact.

That means if you’re accessing the lounge from the top of T1 (i.e. where all outbound passengers clear immigration) it’ll take 20 minutes of leisurely strolling to make your arrival. Fortunately, in case you didn’t bring your walking shoes, there’s an automated rail system that’ll put guests within earshot — between Gates 40 to 80.

The catch? If your boarding gate is numbered in the single digits to low 20s, a visit to The Pier (regardless of whether it’s the first or business class lounge) will require you to double back on foot.

Per the above distance, allow plenty of time to make your boarding call: particularly when flying with Qantas, whose services tend to depart from Gates 9 and 10.

Last, but not least: Who has access to The Pier, First lounge?

Unsurprisingly, admittance at The Pier, First is restricted to the following passenger groups:

  • Guests flying aboard first class services operated by Cathay Pacific/codeshare partners;
  • Cathay Pacific club members with ‘Diamond’ status (with access for an additional 2 guests);
  • Oneworld Emerald Status holders – Qantas Platinum for those in Australia (with access for an additional guest);
  • Guests holding Cathay first class lounge passes, issued as a “mid-tier status benefit” to Cathay Diamond members.

Cathay Pacific operates flights, four times daily, between Sydney and Hong Kong. Additional services operate via Melbourne three times per day.

For an up-to-date schedule for flights from all major Australian cities, visit Cathay Pacific online.


If you’ve enjoyed this review of The Pier, First Class lounge in Hong Kong, then consider a handful of our other travel stories covering destinations throughout the region:

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Randy Lai
WORDS by
Following 6 years in the trenches covering consumer luxury across East Asia, Randy joins Boss Hunting as the team's Commercial Editor. His work has been featured in A Collected Man, M.J. Bale, Soho Home, and the BurdaLuxury portfolio of lifestyle media titles. An ardent watch enthusiast, boozehound and sometimes-menswear dork, drop Randy a line at [email protected].